The gentlemanliness of Arthur Conan Doyle

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American author, Michael Chabon (1963-), 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, wrote of the ‘gentlemanliness of Arthur Conan Doyle’ in his 2010 book Maps and Legends.

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was a British writer and physician, noted for his series of detective novels on the great Sherlock Holmes.

Chabon states that Conan Doyle was, in part, dismayed that his literary works were more recogized, and paid more, than his career as a doctor. He even tried twice to become a ship’s doctor, but failed, working in a number of failing medical practices.

Conan Doyle eventually wrote 56 Sherlock Holmes adventures. The first 24 Holmes stories were written over 29 months. Then there was a ten year hiatus. The rush and the gap led to many contradictions in the characters, but nevertheless, provide a wealth of information for Sherlock critics and reviewers.

In conniving how to kill off Sherlock Holmes in his novels, Conan Doyle was ‘tangibly having fun.’ Chabon adds that it also testifies, ‘not only to Conan Doyle’s art and storytelling gift, and to the magic of the central heroic duo, but also the getting of [money] on a ready imagination.

Conan Doyle’s father, Charles, was noted for his epilepsy, alcoholism, and madness in which his commitment to a ‘mental institution’ were for Conan Doyle ‘the black axioms of existence, never acknowledged, sometimes denied.’ Conan Doyle’s mother, Mary, had ten children, seven of which survived childhood. She had a relationship with their male lodger, Bryan Waller, fifteen years her junior.

Several Conan Doyle’s stories included sinister lodgers and demented, imprisoned or absent fathers and males, and were ideal themes for his detective stories that focused on the evil and the good.

His works continue to fascinate audiences for his invented style of ‘systematic appproach to cataloging the minutiae of crime’ in which he concentrated on both the form of the crime and the reconstruction of the crime. He delighted in the tale of tracking down and trapping the malefactor, revealing the truth of who and how the deed was committed, and offering reasons why the crime was contrived.

His ‘art’ was in his ‘technical innovation of packing multiple stories into a tight narrative frame’; in his locating the scenes within his own deep knowledge of his city; and ‘to play the oldest trick in the book, to revise the original pretense of all adventurers, liars, and storytellers – that every word you are about to hear is true.’

His style of writing confused the boundaries between fact and fiction. People, to this day, still write letters to Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street. At that address now is the Abbey National Bank. A designated bank officer reads and answers all of Sherlock Holmes’ letters.

Conan Doyle married twice and had five children. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he died in Crowborough, Sussex, in England, of heart attack at the age of 71. The epitaph on his gravestone in the Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire, reads in part:

“Steel true

Blade straight

Arthur Conan Doyle

Knight

Patriot, Physician, and man of letters.”

 

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